Sen. McCain Tours Mirror Lab, Explores UA Space Sciences
U.S. Sen. John McCain recently toured the UA's Steward Observatory Mirror Lab and heard about the University's cutting-edge work in space sciences.
During the Feb. 18 visit, which was requested and coordinated by the UA Office of Federal Relations, faculty members briefed McCain about the UA's leading role in space exploration and astronomy.
UA President Ann Weaver Hart greeted McCain and welcomed him to campus. They were then joined by UA athletics director Greg Byrne and UA head football coach Rich Rodriguez.
Inside the mirror lab, McCain was welcomed by Buell Jannuzi, director of the UA Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory. Jannuzi briefed the senator about the UA's long history in large-scale astronomy projects and the impact those projects have on Arizona with regard to employment, economic development and research funding awarded to the UA.
Jannuzi talked specifically about the Giant Magellan Telescope and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, both of which will be outfitted with mirrors produced at the UA, and the James Webb Space Telescope, which is slated for launch in 2018 and is currently being assembled with UA know-how and technology.
"We talked about the history and the impact of space sciences at the University," Jannuzi said, "emphasizing our partnerships with industry and the crucial role of the federal government in funding large collaborative efforts like the LSST and JWST, as well as our space exploration missions."
During McCain's visit, Dante Lauretta, a professor in the UA Department of Planetary Sciences and the principal investigator for NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission, gave a presentation about the progress of OSIRIS-Rex, the largest space mission the University has ever led.
Lauretta talked about the mission's target asteroid, Bennu, and whether it presents an impact hazard to Earth in the distant future. He also talked about how OSIRIS-REx and asteroid research at the UA inform measures that could one day be used to deflect an Earth-bound space rock.
Lauretta stressed the importance of learning as much as possible about asteroids that could potentially impact Earth to mitigate any potential threats.
"At the UA, we know asteroids," Lauretta said. "Between our Catalina Sky Survey, the Space Watch program and our studies on asteroid characterization, impact cratering and meteorites, we are the whole package. We study asteroids at every level and present a resource to NASA and the U.S. government, which has made asteroid policy a priority."
Lauretta said that OSIRIS-REx, although a robotic mission, serves as an important pathfinder for the human exploration of space, including a potential future journey to Mars.
Lauretta's presentation was followed by briefings by Regents' Professors Marcia Rieke and George Rieke. The husband-and-wife researchers have led research and design teams to develop instrument technology for JWST, which is slated to replace NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
Among those instruments is the NIRCam, which was designed, built and tested by a UA team led by Marcia Rieke, and the Lockheed Martin Space Systems Advanced Technology Center in Palo Alto, Calif. It will serve as JWST's prime camera and make it the most powerful space telescope ever built, enabling it to peer deeper into space and further back in time than any other instrument has. Meanwhile, George Rieke heads the science team overseeing another JWST instrument – the Mid-Infrared Imager, or MIRI – which will allow JWST to see in the range where planets outside our solar system, very young stars and star-forming galaxies are bright.
Jeff Kingsley, associate director of the mirror lab, led McCain on a tour of the facility, where he spent a few minutes greeting and talking with middle school students from Tucson's Saint Ambrose Catholic School, who also were visiting the lab.